You don’t always have to be a racist.

I want to tell you a story about a pot, or a vase. It’s a beautiful vase, a gorgeous dark wood with unique texture that evokes mystery and intrigue, what could produce such an object? This story is about the vase, or rather its origin species, and also about the way human beings can change. It’s about learning empathy in small steps, very small, but still, learning.

I just finished co-facilitating a racial reconciliation workgroup using the curriculum of Be The Bridge with my sister Mary, and part of the practice is to bring a centering piece for the group, something that reminds us what we’re about, something with a story for each of us. So I bought this vase along, it’s a special item, something my parents gave me when I emigrated from Australia to the USA, a uniquely Australian jewel of sorts. This guy right here:


So to the story, this vase is made of the wood of the Xanthorrhoea plant, for all my childhood this was know to me as a Black Boy, you get the sense of that origin from the picture below, just. It reminded white settlers of a small black boy carrying a spear, so the story goes.


It may be a bit of a shock to hear that as a child I hunted with a spear, with indigenous friends in the remote town I grew up in, I was terrible at it, but that was part of my childhood, hunting with black boys. And not once did the plant’s name register as a problem.

In my teenage years I’d moved to the city, moved again and got work as a surveyor while studying for that profession, and worked remote a lot, seeing many thousands of these spectacular plants.  It was about then that society started to tell me that “Black Boy” is a racist name and we should all be calling these plants by their other names; Grass Trees. Or if you’re in the west, Balga. Now, Balga is the indigenous people’s name for these plants, and they are an eminently useful plant, you can even make booze from them, and Grass Tree was seen as a very PC term to most Australians, even to me.

Guess what? That’s the power of white supremacy, and as Toni Morrison taught us, the power of labeling is a tool of the oppressor, and when the oppressed push back and take the power of naming themselves and things around them, those in power get mad, and defensive.

Reflecting now on my process of change, I went from a posture of anger that this was “a stupid idea and I don’t have to care about it”, to “I guess if folks say it’s offensive maybe I should try” to “that’s a racist name, don’t use that, call it a Grass Tree for fucks sake, how hard can it be?” in the space of about 5 years. In part this was the racism all white people have been taught to internalize, in part I was a rebellious young adult hating to be told what to do by others, in part I had taken up a life in the big city (big-ish) that was far removed from healthy interactions with my indigenous brothers and sisters that shaped me as a child. And distance may breed fondness in relationships, but separation from, isolation from other peoples does not work in the same romantic way, it enables us to grow colder, less human towards each other.

What has this to do with the world in which I now live? One one hand, it teaches us that reasonable, good-willed people often take time to see the error of their ways, understand their mistakes and push through ego and fear and pride, especially pride.  So when we talk with white people about racism and white supremacy, we should expect many of their layers of bias and fear and hate will take years to work through, that’s not an excuse, it’s being real, this stuff is heart work, and it’s slow.

It also teaches us that despite “having black friends” or whatever your gig is, you aren’t magically shielded from being racist, and having racist views or deep implicit bias. None of us are immune from the insidious power of a society locked in captivity by white supremacy ideology. The next time you, as a white person, go to deflect a suggestion that your shit isn’t rose smelling, remember that yes, you have racism to work out in yourself, as woke as you may be.

I share this story also to remind myself that as an anti-racist activist and leader (small L), my past isn’t shiny, I’ve done stupid stuff, and I’ve hurt people in my past, despite my best intentions. And so have all of us, but to put off working on our internal racism only leaves us captive to it, enslaved to ideas of supremacy that hold us and our communities back from Dr King’s vision of a truly beloved community. Evangelicals, we have work to do. Can we start? Yes?

What can you do to start? Maybe read some new books, or join the Be the Bridge community online and participate in their workshops to learn about yourself and to fight against the status quo of Christian’s being complicit which this system of oppression.

What is a Balga?

More on the naming of this tree?


Small Victories In A Time Of Rapid Change

Small victories are a key part of many healthy organization’s culture, the act of celebrating or at the very least recognizing when something minute happens. As a leader tasked with building out a whole new practice in an established nonprofit, I’m already thinking about the small wins we can get on the board to show we’re moving, changing, acting, but then, is this a distraction, or good practice?

(I’m raising my hand here to say that no, I’m not an org dev expert, not a culture maven, but I’ve been increasingly sensitive to these areas of modern work for many years, and at Alluma I have a unique opportunity to put some of this possible wisdom into action.)

Despite knowing small wins will build trust, will show what our vision looks like and get our staff excited about this work, I’m conflicted, and reading my brother Brandon Greene’s piece on Radical Ambition today really hit home. So I’m thinking about the ways we identify when small wins really are sufficient, and what the possible markers are to suggest you need to skip the chaff and aim big, bold, tenacious.

As Brandon writes:

As I have been pouring over the articles contained within the project, it has made me think a lot about the work that I am engaging in. I have been wondering if it is audacious enough? At the same time, I have wondered just what would it take move something as bold at the government level?

He’s responding to the stunningly powerful work of the #1619 project in the New York Times magazine, a uniquely audacious project worthy of ALL our attention. If you haven’t read it online or purchased a rapidly out-of-stock copy, go do that now, I’ll wait here.

Lately my colleagues and I have been observing small changes, small wins, plans to achieve incremental progress, and sometimes yes, that is enough, for now. But all too often, we recognize that taking a ship that is sailing into a storm and applying “incremental changes” will still result in a wreck.

How Can We Think Bigger?

I think having a diverse perspective in a team is a key way to avoid obsessing over small wins instead of seeking major changes. It increases the safety of the crowd, the wisdom of the crowd and in a trusted environment, lets voices of concern be heard, voices that say ‘we’re not doing enough to really matter here”. By diversity I do mean ethnic and gender and age, and also a broad range of field experience; not just folks with the exact same career paths.

Second, you need a broad view, a clear sense of what your peers and maybe competitors are doing; are you a feature or two behind? A version of automation short of your nonprofit peers? Go ahead and push for small wins, incremental change. But, if you find yourself struggling to see a path that leads to your team, your organization out front, incremental ain’t gonna cut it. Now is the time to go big. Audacious.

Third, or once you realize you’re past small wins, you do need to look at culture. If you don’t invest in more open, inclusive and reflective culture at this point, you’re stuck for some time. This is when your team needs to see things differently, and learn to work differently. Talk to the amazing folks at the Justice Collective, Human Workplaces or someone like Luke if you need help on building culture that enables innovation and change.

What do you do when you realize your culture of small wins isn’t enough? Here’s some of what I’ve found helpful as a starting point:

  • You go read about doing it different.
  • Start to incubate bigger ideas- write them down, share them, get champions, do them!
  • Don’t be afraid to go causal- diagram out why the current small steps can’t get you to the place you want to be! This helps make the case for folks who like details and safe plans.
  • Go above your managers if they do not support your ideas of thinking bigger. Don’t ignore them or disrespect them, but don’t let them hold the team back.
  • Write about your work- share it with staff, share it on the web, chances are it will help you think differently about your work.
  • Lastly, make sure you’re investing in a culture of reflection- the act of dissecting past wins and failures is key in thinking bigger and better about how to launch forward.
Bass Hole, Cape Cod, by Spike

If you’re struggling to get your ideas over the hump, think about where it is that you do your best thinking- for me, the wilderness and places by water help me get out of my zone, find what helps you think freer and embrace that however you can!

If we don’t start now, we’ll never get there. Don’t look back in five years and think “if we had just…”. Every shady street started with a row of saplings.
Joy Bonaguro

Building a data practice at Alluma.

This is my work right now. Through a stroke of fate aka unexpected layoff’s of remote staff at my last organization, I found myself looking for something challenging that would pair data with impact, and via an old relationship with a former board member, and currently the CEO, I found myself jumping aboard as the Chief Data Officer at Alluma (we were Social Interest Solutions until last week!). My job, and maybe yours too, is to build a data practice inside an organization that is not (yet) a data -informed operation. We’re not a startup, but it’s a greenfield for the data work here, and the potential is really exciting.

What should you expect? By the end of this year we’ll have brought the team together, beginning with a data governance/BI lead, then a Data Engineer (hellooooo we’re hiring), then a senior data scientist and finally a data viz/web designer person who loves building on the web with data. One of the values at Alluma is that we’re small but mighty, and a small data team of multi-disciplinary people will be able to achieve a whole lot, and hopefully have fun in the process. We’ll be heavily relying on open source tools, and we’ll be leveraging the learnings from 18F and others on managing remote teams.

Who Are You?

Not heard of us? Well, we’ve been innovating in the field of access to health and food for over 15 years, we’ve got great policy expertise, strong dev teams and we’re building an innovation pipeline to uncover new ways to serve people better. Our leadership is diverse, and our values speak to the importance of designing ethically for the people who rely on the systems we support for their survival.

In my short tenure so far I’m impressed by our ability to blend policy (big P as in regulations) with human centered design and modern tech and design skills to build products that work the way we want government to really work. We don’t call ourselves #CivicTech nor #GovTech, we fit more in the #SocialImpact world as a nonprofit who builds products for state and local government, provides policy guidance and seeks to help the people who need the benefits to succeed in their current situation.

Sonal, Chief Policy Officer, John, Chief of Technology & Design, Spike, Chief Data Officer

Sonal, our Chief Policy Officer, John, Chief of Technology & Design, Spike, Chief Data Officer


Our GlassDoor reviews look pretty rough, but our newer team of senior leaders are doing the right things to change Alluma for the better, and I’m confident we’re getting stronger and healthier as an organization. For our data team, we’ll be a mix of local and remote staff, and we’ll be building a culture together, working more openly (publishing practice guides and tools on GitHub), building the capacity of people across the organization and designing our team culture to ensure all people have a voice, and can shape our work and impact.

So keep your ears open as these roles, and new ones for our Tech & Design team as they come up this year, you’ll get to work on things that matter and enjoy the team we build together. If you’re as much a people and process person as you are a data geek, join us!

moar data!

Transparency at 0.5

This month I hit my 6 month mark in my new role as Data Evangelist with Measure for Justice.  If you’ve never heard of us, we’re a criminal justice transparency organization, on track to push robust performance measures on each stage of the justice system in every county in the USA.  I wanted to share a little about the process of adjustment in a new role, as well as a bit about what I’m seeing in our work.

The short version of what I’m doing here is best presented as a Venn+ diagram. Wait, this doesn’t all align properly! Quite true. It feels like there are two halves of my role with two components each, there’s clear overlap within each half but not so much across the halves, for now.

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 4.15.55 PM

Our work is focused on collecting record level data from state and county agencies, and some of my time goes to helping local county agencies across California with data extraction, I would say ETL but it’s often not that sophisticated.  I’m also building relationships with vendors to develop sustainable methods of data sharing for their clients; we may get API access, have vendors dump data with approval, get queries or ad-hoc reports built into their systems to reduce the load on local agency staff. Many agencies in California have very little technical capacity in-house, and IT staff often do not understand the nuances of nor the laws around accessing raw data, so improving the process of data sharing is key for the long term!

A New Fellowship


We’ve just announced a Data Fellowship program designed to create a whole new era of open data in the Florida criminal justice system. We’ll be placing fellows in two pilot counties where they will be working on bringing data collection up to new standards, developing ETL processes to publish data, digitizing scanned data forms, building tools to scrape and convert data and helping with the data culture around these problems, all with the goal of a new standard of transparency in criminal justice. Way to go Florida.

You can read more and apply for the fellowship here.

Things Repeat (Or Is this The Point)

So many things from my almost twelve years at Urban Strategies Council were first-time activities–bespoke data analysis, apps, reports and community coalitions, so much uniqueness and so little efficiency. This keeps things interesting, but is makes an organization broad without sufficient depth, and the same can go for the people inside the organization.  The allure of scaling for me was the chance to do things again, to learn, to iterate and to improve, which all requires active reflection.

I’ve found myself in a very strong organization, one that has plenty of depth and that is scaling in depth and somewhat in breadth also, yet I’m aware that I myself am repeating things, things I’ve done before, things I learned just barely, and battles I’ve fought before.  Sometimes it feels strange to be pushing for things I’ve fought for elsewhere, and this feels a touch bizarre to have to do it again, but I think also





We hire new people, or change jobs, not just to learn it all anew, but to put things into play that we’ve worked on prior. If you’re pushed for change x in organization y, then you’re in a great position to push for the very same x in organization z. In fact you’re prefect for that! You’ve seen the value (if not, rethink maybe?), and you know what it takes to make something happen, also meaning you’ve fucked some things up and are more sensitive to Not. Doing. That. Again.


So once more I’m writing a Writing Plan, developing an Editorial Calendar, pushing for On-boarding processes, refining marketing and comms approaches and helping lead a values and culture effort.

Wait, aren’t you a data thingo? Also yes.

And when you start to feel the pieces coming together, this ends up being quite fun and rewarding.

Change is good in the end, even if it hurts in the process.

I’m looking forward to avoiding not writing more soon!


A Decade and Change. Leaving Urban Strategies Council

You read that right. After eleven and a half years, I’m moving on from the Council. Ever since I immigrated to the USA twelve years ago, I’ve been blessed with this job, my one and only paid job in this country.  I’m leaving with a heart full of sorrow and plenty of strange emotions, feelings of guilt, betrayal, selfishness in me making this decision and leaving an organization that has given me so much, and a team that is truly wonderful. The only thing I can compare this feeling to is that of breaking up with a long term partner. You heard me, it feels like that. This has been a special place for 30 years, and now it won’t be my home every work day, and it’s taking some time to process.

And then my new job starts sending me gear, making the whole thing feel very much like cheating.

But I do know it isn’t any of those things, I’m just so proud to have been part of this work, these fights for justice for so long, in a city I had no claim to, but now call home, my earthly spiritual home at least.  And now I’m moving to another nonprofit. something that had started to feel impossible, like there was no job I’d rather do than mine at the Council, but finally it happened, and after years of thinking Linkedin is a bit of a time suck with no real point, I stumbled across a job posting that led to the creation of me new role at my soon to be new home. Well, again, not real home, I’ll be working out of my actual home mostly, and that is special at this time of life with all those little blonde girls running around our home. So farewell commute for the most part too.

I’ve felt some bitterness growing about the Council over recent years, and I’m happy to be leaving before that grows too much, because the truth is, with all it’s failings and imperfections, I have learned so much here, and I’ve learned so many critical skills from our past CEO Junious Williams too.  The power of community, the important of people’s voices and their stories, how to be a solid facilitator, the need to speak truth to power and when to pull a punch if it makes strategic sense, and when to go after a mayor publicly and call bullshit on their bad planning and messed up data, oops. That was kinda fun, even if we didn’t really want to do it.

I’ve learned much about managing people, some by good examples, some by learning not what to mimic, and so much about design of data, apps, content and recently a ton about communication of both data and of stories.  I had the distinct pleasure of serving on the NNIP Executive Committee and being an active part of that awesome network, and got to travel to dozens of cities and make new friends across this country.  So while yes, I could make more in the private sector, the benefits and experiences here have been just invaluable.  It has really been a blessing.

Seeing people move on has always been hard for me, so I’m intimately aware of what I’m doing to others, but I still know it’s the right time to leave. My new work will be as the Data Evangelist for Measures for Justice, working to open up the myriad of criminal justice data across the country, and this seems like a perfect next step.  A hard next step too, this isn’t going to be easy, but I’m really excited to be part of their team now too.

So to all of you who have worked with and for me here, thank you so much, for listening, correcting, arguing, teaching and being part of this decade and change; to Anne G, Randolph, Eron, Anslem, Ofurhe, Andy, Junious, John G, Adrian, Calvin, Cindy, Linda, Jennifer, Rebecca, Miguel, Kathy P. Leah H, Hilary, and especially Nate, Sarah, Rania and Steve K.

Woman | Shame | Perfection

This has been a big few weeks for the idea of feminism, respect, and equality for women and amid the horror and furor of events, I confess one thing just shook me.  If I’m honest, it’s stuck with me like very little else in life has. One piece of writing featured on a bold podcast on sexism in the church in America has done me in, I find myself broken again each day over this, more tears than I’ve ever known aside from personal loss- a story that reaches deep inside and unravels much of the sexist shit I’ve carried, even as a man who has been somewhat sensitive to sexism for many years, as a man who’s  consciously built a team that includes women and is safe for women, make that two teams. Despite this, one piece of writing has challenged so much for me, and it’s shaken me up in ways that make me more empathetic than ever, its no longer just “injustice”, its real women, real pain, real harassment, abuse, and shame, and no, its not ok, not with me, not with my faith, not with my family. The more I talk about this and the more this becomes a public discussion we can have, the more we all realize that almost all women have stories they are ashamed or afraid of, and men have to start getting this, not denying, not excusing, not deflecting.

Enough of my fumbling. Below is Lisa’s piece in it’s entirety, I’ve been posting snippets all week on the facebook, here it all fits together. Again, trigger warnings for female readers. For men, take pause for a second before you read it all.

(Thank you so much Mike, Michael, Lisa and everyone else on the truly wonderful episode of the Liturgists, a fantastic podcast, check em out here.)


First moments, the merging of two cells into one, multiplying—two, four, six, eight—rapidly growing and forming the information that will decide my hair, eyes, teeth, hands, my genetic DNA. Everything I needed to become a human and still I am invisible to the naked eye. I am grown from my Mother’s own body, my blood from her blood, my heartbeat from her choice; making her belly swell and her hormones go crazy with rage and want for whip-cream filled donuts at 4am.

My body grows and she puts her hand upon her belly to feel a foot kick her side, the jerk of hiccups, the round of my head. She is proud, proud of her body that is a force, source of life to mine.

I grow. Her body tells her it is time; I come into the world with pain and euphoria as she breaks her beautiful body to give me life. She sees me for the first time, what she has made, and it is good. The intricacies of the human body is something staggering – veins, heart, lungs, synapses, toenails, chemicals, eyelashes, all good and beautiful. She holds my body and breathes in.

I grow. From a baby to a toddler, toddler to little girl. I am four and I can run around with my shirt off and feel the fullness of the wind.  I can paint my belly and take baths with my friends, slap my butt and laugh. We sleep under stars and run through sprinklers naked and wild. We are silly and think our bodies are strange and wonderful.

I grow and I am six. I am taught what I can and cannot do with my body; can no longer take my shirt off outside on my front porch, no longer run around naked with my friends outside with paint on our bellies because the man across the street stares so my Mother takes me inside and tells me I am now the age where I need to be careful. A feeling comes I never knew before, I learn later the word for it is this – shame. We are at our friend’s house and the teenage boy keeps making me sit on his lap; I don’t understand it. We are all sitting in a circle, about ten of us, and no one notices. I am confused and try to get away from him, but he holds me there and moves his hands in a way I don’t understand. I feel I should obey because he is a strong older boy and I a small girl inherently weaker than he. I get mad that my body is not stronger, that I cannot break free. I feel it is my fault, maybe I should not have worn shorts so my legs were covered. And then there was the church leader, my friend’s father, who insisted he put lotion on my legs after our bath. I didn’t want him to, but he made me obey, because he was a man, and I, young and born the lesser of the sexes. It is uncomfortable and I thought he must not know what he is doing, a respectable man, let alone a church leader wouldn’t do this…but now I am older and know better, yes, he knew. So I am six and I can no longer be free in this body I once ran wild in, but I should cover it because there are predators and I don’t tell because I am ashamed, and it was no big deal, no reason to fuss.

I am fourteen. I feel my body changing on me, I notice and others notice and I no longer have the freedom of my youth. Blood comes and I am embarrassed; hiding the grocery store runs, keeping it a secret, seeing my brother laugh when he looks under the sink. It is a wonder of growing to womanhood, but I am starting to hate being a woman.  I am ashamed at what my body does, this beautiful thing that I once ran free in is turning on me, making me awkward and uncomfortable because even you are now uncomfortable with that thought. Boy’s eyes consume rather than see. I am told this is my fault, I am told God wants me to cover my body, wear longer skirts and shirts up to my collar bone and be sure it isn’t tight.  But how much skin is okay? Because other girls cover their whole body in black and I heard of the day there were two separate staircases for males and females so that males wouldn’t accidentally catch a glimpse of a girl’s ankle.

Now that I am fourteen, now that I am changing, is God now ashamed with what he made? The body formed in my mother, so good and beautiful, turned to shame with age and religious threads weaving and constructing my social identity? Oppression for something I cannot control, something completely natural and good. If this body is not holy in and of itself then God should have never made it in the first place. It’s the flower hating its vibrant petals, the beautiful tree sprouting from the earth only to grow and be ashamed of its bark.

I am twenty. I have rejected the shy, awkward aspects of womanhood and instead learned to joke about it to cope and be cool. But when night comes, I am often afraid to walk down the street alone. Every walk I take is accompanied with fear, because I see the eyes consume. I hear the threats and am followed. I have friends who are victims. Every girl I know has been afraid, every one of them. From taking a simple walk to rape and a child coming from it. One hid in the laundry basket when she was 9. One silently prayed every night from 13 to 16 that her father would be too drunk to come into her bed. One was at a party with her friend, he wanted something, she didn’t, so he trapped her in the restroom. One hid from her brother, another from her grandfather, another from her coworker. Some say it is the woman’s fault—the shirt was too low, breasts too big, how can a man resist?  But here’s a staggering idea: maybe the victim isn’t at fault. If in looking at the beautiful woman’s body you cannot appreciate her beauty but must strip and consume then it is true our culture has poisoned your mind—consume, take, be the animal, take, take, take.

Shame. Did my mother think that when she held me close to her chest at my birth? Was she ashamed? The beautiful form becomes forbidden and lusted at a certain age, all held together by a story of a serpent and a woman. Though some claim the curse is broken, some still believe it—the body is shamed, curse ever present.

I am thirty. I made two girls within my own body, felt the rush of bringing them into the world, and when I saw their bodies, I saw a miracle. Their skin and eye lashes perfect. Tiny lips, tiny fingernails, eyes embodying innocence and awe. They grow and run around my house naked and scream wildly without self-awareness or social concern. I teach them about our culture and what is and isn’t acceptable. But what I will not teach them is shame of their body. It was beautiful from moment one, and that will not change – not with age, not with anything. One daughter looks at her body in the mirror, we talk about the organs and skin, how her body will change. She is beautiful on every count. I remember when I was six, and I know I have to warn her. Not shame her, but tell her how some people were not taught to love, but take for themselves and she must be brave and aware. It pains me as I tell her, her innocent mind not know why one person would hurt another in such a way. “Do not be afraid,” I tell her. “But this is our culture, so be smart and be aware my brave girl.” Shame teaches us, but I will not teach my daughters in this way. I will empower them to be proud of their bodies, respectful of their bodies, in awe of how miraculous it is and what it is capable of.

 I will tell my daughter that to be a woman is not to be lesser, not object, not the bed in the red light district, nor the “bitch” in the hotel. She is not the body to exploit or product to consume.

“She” is not shame.

“She” is beautiful woman with beautiful body, capable of cosmic realities. Holding someone close, experiencing love, making love, creating life, accepting another human life as her own, feeling pain, joy, giving strength, healing with a kiss, wholeness with a touch; giving physical and mental nourishment with her own body.

“She” is grounded enough to follow, still capable to lead from a child to a nation.  The woman’s body is made in the image of Love, from Love herself, Life herself, so she herself is of God.

For my Grandmother, for my Mother, for my daughters, my friends, and as a reminder to myself: be proud, beautiful woman, your body is intrinsically good, perfectly good.

Perfect from moment one.

By Lisa Gungor, part of the wonderful world.

Can nonprofits do User Experience Testing?

Most government and nonprofit websites get built by describing the specifications and design, getting someone to build it and then after internal review, launch! That can work, but it often produces sites (and apps) that don’t really meet the specific needs of your audience, your users, your stakeholders.  Despite this being how we do things in this sector, there are better practices out there; one of the better things to come from Silicon Valley is the field of User Experience or user testing- something intimidating at first but something very much within reach of any organization or agency. Let me tell you about how we’ve started using this practice- I’m not an expert but I’ve had the privilege of working with some through OpenOakland and now we’re putting this to the test at Urban Strategies Council. is a new website that’s being created in partnership with a bunch of great orgs in the East Bay- it’s bootstrapped (done on the cheap) and not yet officially launched, but it exists, so don’t consider it a secret.  We had the idea formed by many stakeholders, a great design shop pro-bono’d the look and feel (Raizlabs) and another small firm built it (dStrategies).  We have a fantastic marketing strategist helping put together our plan to promote and sustain the site too (thanks Carrie). What was missing in all of this expertise and thinking was the users- the people we’re really building this to help.  We want to demystify tech jobs for young people of color in the east bay- to change both the technology career pipeline itself and to encourage local youth to get into jobs that pay well enough to help them stay in Oakland and the East Bay.  Clearly we needed to hear directly from some of those young people about how could work best for them.

User Experience testing requires one hard thing- a willingness to hear from others how bad your product may be.  Listening is critical, but if you’re not open to hearing a bad message, you won’t do this right.


We conducted our first UX session in partnership with Youth Radio, just across the street.  They gathered six young people from one of their programs and our team planned out a session that would do these things:

  • Gather feedback on the interface design- do young people find their way around the site as planned?
  • Refine language on the site- is our wonk-level language use ok, or are we confusing users?
  • Validating or refuting our ideas on what information young people want when seeking training opportunities.

We adapted some questions from a session I’ve helped run before and then got to work with our group. Our session was 50 minutes long and had four main segments:

  1. General questions about how they find jobs and training currently- and what they imagine they would want from a website like this;
  2. Watching them try out the site individually to assess how they navigate it, followed by general feedback as a group;
  3. Showing the group some planned new features using a paper prototype, to get their feedback; and
  4. An exercise to draw up their career pathway- on paper.

From this session we learned many important things- almost all of them easy/cheap to fix.  Imagine that- launching a website knowing that many things have been already validated or improved by your users!  Some UX sessions will have you throwing your head to the desk as your assumptions were wrong, or the design just wrong, but it’s such a valuable gain that I can’t imagine doing any projects on the web without doing this each time.  We learned that many pieces of language were not clear- that buttons needed renaming, menus rearranged and renamed, contact forms made more prominent, linkages changing and also that they really dug the design and build of the site.

We also learned much about how to get this site used by young people- and our plan to focus on Instagram and SnapChat for promotion was altered when we heard they found out about programs from their moms a lot- so we can re-add Facebook to our list- if that’s where adults are, we can reach them there, and thereby reach their kids too. Small things.

We’ve got one more session planned with another youth development partner Soulciety. Then we’ll be launching for real.  My guess is that this approach added about:

  • Three hours to arrange the sessions;
  • Four hours to plan them;
  • One hour each to execute;
  • One hour to review changes.

So when you’re building a digital tool or website- think about the value of testing your product with an audience early on- ten hours can give you critical feedback and let you adjust a product to really meet the needs of your users better. And maybe avoid some embarrassment.




Special thanks to Andrea Moed for her feedback on this post, but more importantly for teaching me so much in partnership at OpenOakland- I may have helped create this space but each one teach one is how it really works in community.

A new era for OpenOakland (burnout in #civictech)


Three and a half years, a dozen apps, some new laws, hundreds of hack nights, ten big public events and many new friends across the country. OpenOakland has been a huge part of my life since Eddie Tejeda and I decided our city needed us to do something, and it’s a part of my life that I’m stepping back from, with huge sadness, much love and much hope that the people I’m leaving it to will do new, great things with this vehicle for civic action we’ve built together.

As of May 30, both Eddie and myself are stepping down and we’ll no longer be leading this organization. We’ll always have pride in being the co-founders of an Oakland made creation that has seen impact across the United States of America and inspired others across the world, but we’re at a point where we both need space in our lives that isn’t possible with paying jobs and leading a civic organization. Not anymore at least.

I’ve balanced my family (three little girls), my marriage and my love for Oakland and for what we’ve made through OpenOakland, but it’s become harder to put in the time needed to really grown and develop and organization at this phase- we need to figure out our business model, raise funds, build a board and keep producing apps, advocacy and events, whilst supporting our volunteer base (love y’all). I’m aware that I’ve sacrificed much but I’ve loved doing so. But I need space for myself, space to get physically fit again, space to enjoy being a dad and not compromising weekends with my kids for retreats or hack days, and space to enjoy being a husband and not having “all those evening events”. My wife has supported me in this work for a long time, but we’ve also agreed to accountability- we’ve blown through a couple of dates we set for me to step out if it wasn’t clear there was a fundable role to take on, and my wife was gracious in that, thank you, but now it is time.

This is a hard choice, I’ve shed tears over it (I may not empathize well but I do have the feels) and I’m a bit stunned by the idea of not having an org to run, things to build, people to support, but I’ve got ideas brewing and am looking forward to the space to nurture them. I’d also love to be serving more in different ways, maybe with our church, maybe with protest movements, I’m not really sure yet.

Being part of this, maybe even being a leader in the open government movement, has been wonderful, and I’m not opting out all the way, I still think this stuff matters greatly. I’ve gotten to become friends with people I admired previously and that’s a special thing. People like Jen Pahlka, Noel Hidalgo, Derek Eder, Luke Fretwell, Dan O’Neill, Tim O’Reilly, Harlan Weber, Bill Bushey, Mjumbe Poe and many more- you all have inspired me, challenged me and pushed me to keep moving toward a vision of a better world, a better Oakland.

Our executive team at OpenOakland has a lot to take on now with both founders stepping down, but I’ve realized this past year that our team is truly amazing; their dedication, passion, creativity and ingenuity are really just incredible, and I have faith in them to guide this organization forward, even if that’s in a different direction than the one we set out on- go for it!

I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not disengaging from the civic tech world. I’ve committed to helping the brigade movement figure out how to sustain and grow, and I’ve got ideas for Oakland too. But in the near future I’ll be making sure OpenOakland has a smooth transition and then just being a social justice researcher and advocate, husband, dad, and friend for a while.

Mining for gold, clearing drains, taking the hits

I’ve appreciated the thoughts recently from Mark Headd and Andrew Nicklin on how innovation in civic tech isn’t standing the test of time, nor scaling.

As some of our local projects get to conversations of sustaining, I think it’s one of the most important roles OpenOakland has played- taking on the risk. It has meant that many projects die slowly, but others, even our Adopta, are now at a point that our city partners see immense value in them, and want to figure out how to grow them, and with horizontal scale that’s pretty amazing.

In Oakland, our Adoptdrain app isnt that sexy, but it’s really ramped up the impact of the program run by Environmental Services.


The city staff are building a coalition of several other cities who have forked our code and stood up their own local adopta-drain apps, and they jointly want to support the growth of this tool, all with their own modest change to local instances. This is pretty awesome, simple apps that improve operations of government services and help people step in to do civic work that helps their city’s bottom line. But where we have an opportunity to scale, and government staff willing to consider new risks, we have a model problem.

Orgs like ours ( are great at innovating, trying new things, taking on the risk of possible failure, but we’re not built for sustaining. It’s one thing to get a volunteer team to build an app, or redeploy one, but to do long term code base updates, support requests, deal with multiple clients and feature demands? No, not a good fit. Maybe if we built out a collective of techs for hire, but then we’d be something else altogether.

Reflecting on 3+ years running a civic tech org, Eddie Tejeda and I almost, almost started an open source civic services firm (maybe akin to Andrew Hoppin’s shop, but likely not as good) because we saw that government needed support in adopting (ha) open source tech. But we decided to build OpenOakland as a community, an advocacy and innovation organization instead. Now we’re at a place where our partners need an open source services firm to help them grow. Not just more volunteers. Progress? Yep.

When I look at what came out of our work building I get a similar pattern- I’d wanted to see what we could achieve through this tech/process for a year before we pulled it off, but now it’s still the most useful city web element that people rely on frequently, and it’s inspired some of the city’s approach to the new digital front door project and how the city considers partnering with community. Maybe the app itself is in need of some love, but what this effort sparked was much greater. Again, not a sustainable system built by hackers in one weekend, but a new idea of how to do things better, in collaboration with community.

I’m pretty proud of these outcomes, even if we’ve not gotten our open-by-default government yet. But I see much more to be done. Join us!

Going 3:0. On maternity leave, fatherhood and avoiding feminism

Five weeks ago I became the father to a baby girl named Madeline. She’s my third daughter. My third kid under 4. My life is a bit of a beautiful mess right now with three in diapers. But I’m a dad again and that is something fricking amazing, something beyond anything I had ever known as a non-kid having person. Joy. Till kids I hadn’t really known what joy meant.  And now there’s four females in my life.


Despite some strange tendency of men and women to ask me “aren’t you sad you didn’t have a boy?”, I still feel about 1 in 100 on the remorse/sadness scale of not having a male child to retain my legacy/name/whatever. My daughters are rad.  But 3 is enough.


Don’t get me started. Nine or so years ago we talked about kids. It horrified me that something as crazy as governmental policy and right wing bullshit was the reason we didn’t have kids earlier- coming from an (apparently) socialist country like Australia where I had never once considered the cost/insurance angle of parenthood. But once I learned the basics of the US system of (not) caring for your people, I was pretty stunned. I was working as a nonprofit research analyst and my wife was in school and part time university, and we couldn’t afford pregnancy on multiple levels, so we waited. My mind went from stunned to angry that health insurance policy was responsible for us not being cool becoming parents, yet.

Delaying being a family because of insurance coverage- not something I’d heard of in my entire life. Still sounds messed up. But it happened with us. We couldn’t see a way to make ends meet with no family coverage- given market rates for spouse+kid it just seemed prohibitive, and that made us pretty sad.  We weren’t poor by any means but it still was a hard reality.

Now, we have good coverage, sweet. Easy life. Almost?

Maternity. Pregnancy aka the pre-existing condition you don’t want.

I took three weeks off to meet my new daughter and to support my wife in looking after the other two. I loved that time, but it’s over, back to work and to managing OpenOakland. I’ve had the privilege and good fortune to work for an organization with decent leave policies, but having kids really makes you question the policy approach to supporting families in the USA. My wife is lucky enough to have 3 months off work, which is not something to laugh at, but in light of the way more progressive and family friendly policies in developed nations it really leaves a bitter taste.  We have the worst family policies.  Seeing how much we bond with our kids, knowing how hard it is to raise kids while working a mix of full and part-time, while on decent wages, then hearing Washington politicians talking about hand-outs, entitlement and crap like this, this system is broken. Back in Australia a parent can take a full year off work to raise a newborn.  That means safety, space and time to adapt to being a parent (which is awesome but damn hard). Sweden leads the world with their policy of over a year on leave, paid well.

We have it so much better than minimum wage families who need to do two or more jobs to barely get by with some benefits, yet we don’t find this easy to manage without family help close at hand. Raising kids in the bay is a real thing, a hard thing, many of our friends have moved east to be closer to families, closer to bigger, affordable housing and better schools. I don’t blame them.  Don’t you ever wonder how transformative it would be for a low wage family to have a parent take a year off (hard) work to raise their newborn? With no stress (which hurts our health) and with no drama of trying to find a sitter whilst doing two jobs?  To me, this sounds like a country I want, a country that treats it’s citizens with dignity and that recognizes the value of family, not just for political posturing as “family values” representatives who don’t do much for families.

So given we’re pretty much past all the times we could benefit from such a system change (we’ve established above the imminent lack of ability to produce more offspring), I have little to gain from any changes- so call me experienced and moderately independent- we have to change how we treat families.  We need longer parental leave, better job protection and we certainly need to not scrap the ACA and it’s elimination of pregnancy as a pre-existing condition that will exclude you from new health coverage.  There are many other areas of our society where we’re seeing positive, but slow change.

Change however, doesn’t seem to happen fast if the current system is only hurting women or people of color.


I’ve been an anti-racist for a very long time, but it seems that being a husband and now a father to three daughters is also making me more of a feminist than I thought possible.  How can I love someone and not take seriously, not get angry about the ways they are mistreated, disrespected?  And then not also care for all the others in the same boat by extension?  This shift in my ideas hasn’t been easy, I grew up in outback Australia with a pretty chauvinistic perspective on life.  But now I’m being challenged to act in ways that match my heart.  It seems like I’m being stretched to understand how my faith applies to more aspects of my society.  I struggle to see how Christians publicly espouse hate towards “the gays”, trans folks and immigrants, while I see more and more that justice, equality and love have to be applied outwards, towards those in our society who aren’t just the same as us.  Sometimes this is being an ally to Black Lives Matters, sometimes it’s trying to figure out how our actions, our systems are unjust towards women and people of color.

My girls are wonderful beyond words, and my desire to see them grow to love life, to love others and to seek justice and have compassion is deep, but it seems like I need to also fight for a future that is consistent with the way I want them to be treated- to be paid fairly, to be free to start a family without fear of healthcare costs and to not face sexualization and discrimination. I guess I’m now a feminist, of sorts.